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In memory of Carlo Aymonino |

Manuel de Solà-Morales

Carlo Aymonino, one of the most important architects of the second half of the twentieth century, died in Rome, the city of his birth, on July 3, 2010 at the age of 83. In his writings, seminars, and designs he tackled the fundamental problems raised by the shift from the Modern Movement to the engagement with complexity and the beauty of the real-life, historical, and contemporary city.

At a moment marked by disciplinary fundamentalism and ill temperedness, Aymonino advanced, through early writings such as Origini e sviluppo della città moderna (1965), Il significato della città (1975), and Le città capitali (1975), a vision of city architecture that brimmed with tenderness and curiosity.

He always approached the city more as an apprentice than a prophet, and was constantly interweaving the abstract values of urban life with an appreciation for the uniquely textured event.

Aymonino’s reading of the city as an all-encompassing matrix of architectural cultures was not without scholastic precedent—it could be found in Muratori’s typological analyses of Venice, for instance,


and in Compte’s philosophical neopositivism—but unless we harken back to Durand or Semper and all that was swept away by the winds of functionalism, there has been no parallel to Aymonino in contemporary European architectural thought.

His proposal that we recognize the study of the city as a discipline basic to all architecture has been simplistically labeled the “typological” approach, and while that may not be a mislabeling, it is notably reductive. Drawing similar conclusions as the folks who based the idea of architecture on the progressive rationalization of the hut and identified the origin of composite geometry within the logic of construction, Aymonino is among those who proclaim the city—which is to say agglomeration, hierarchy, and, more generally, the relationship between multifarious forms—as the principle that underlies all architectural intelligence.

To him, a building only made sense as a piece of the larger urban puzzle, and as such, as the locus of some function in relation to its context. And it was, moreover, the city plan, in all the richness of its

In memory of Carlo Aymonino

| Manuel de Solà-Morales

forms—be they cadastres, roads, streetlights or signs, overlapping or repeating—that contained within it the qualities peculiar to the urban phenomenon.

For two decades Aymonino ran the Italian university’s “Gruppo Architetture,” and it was with this collection of friends and followers— Rossi, Canella, Grassi, Semerani, Polosello—that he undertook prototypical studies of cities (first Padua, later Paris, Vienna…) and called into service a demonstration of the city’s meaning as an outgrowth of its architecture.

In 1969 the Barcelona Urbanism Laboratory undertook the first, admittedly modest translations and publication of the texts most emblematic of the theoretical debate that Aymonino inaugurated. Printed in the department’s primitive booklets (3.2), The Meaning of Cities was the first. Then, in 1972 Gustavo Gilli published the Spanish translation of his 1965 The Origins and Development of the Modern City as a real book, one of a series (Ciencia Urbanística, 11). A subsequent version of The Meaning of Cities was published in Madrid in 1981 by Blume.


Taken as a body of work, Aymonino’s theoretical contributions are transcendent not merely due to his architectural designs or the power of his writings, but for his singular intellectual stance. He defended project-based urbanism (masked by its partisan commitments) from the urbanism of the planners, of the municipal expediters and architects of objects. By introducing this defense (like Quaroni or Samonà) into Italy’s debate (arguably the richest of the 70s, 80s, and 90s) he broke the tension between ideological architects and pragmatic politicians and stood up to Anglo Saxon structuralism-in-disguise (Ceccarelli, Secchi).

But Aymonino’s historical significance must ultimately be understood as stemming from his role as a father figure and mentor to Aldo Rossi. His generosity and admiration for Rossi made it possible for his dazzling Milanese friend to largely overshadow him. For Aymonino, standing up for Rossi’s ideas was a lifelong commitment, and their collaboration was a source of so many of the shades of meaning and subtle differences that made that era among Italy’s—and the world’s— most prolific in terms of new architectural ideas.

In memory of Carlo Aymonino

Translation: Philip Kay

| Manuel de Solà-Morales

After finishing at Rome’s Sapienza University, Aymonino went to work in the studio of his uncle, the powerful Marcello Piacentini, and soon found himself working with Quaroni and Ridolfi on the design for the Campus Martius district, which they proceeded to build between 1949 and 1954 and made into the ultimate expression of architectural “neorealism.” At the end of the 1950s, together with his brother Maurizio, Alessandro de Rossi, and the Baldo brothers, Aymonino started the AIDE studio. Beginning in 1974 came the famous Gallaratese project in a mixed-use neighborhood of Milan, the master plan for Pesaro’s historic downtown, and, from 1978 to ’81, the provocative Casa-Parcheggio in that same city. More recently his monument to the Colossus of Rome in the Forum constituted what may have been his final project.

Among his multiplicity of designs, texts, lectures, and seminars Aymonino was notable foremost for his capacity to foment an attitude, a school of thought, and a particular angle of vision in which the city was not some complex enemy that needed to be simplified, but a source of untold wonder and delight. His entire persona exuded a kind of peevish snub towards architecture’s tendency to impose order. He instead attributed the utmost creative potential to defining “the new city,” neither so very different from the old one as in the capitalist mirage nor so uniform as in the socialist utopia.

In this effort to distance himself from ideological oversimplifications and reassert the city’s materiality as both an instance and a broader definition, Aymonino battled with the same fervor against the generalizations of his comrades in the Communist Party (Tafuri, Campos V.) and those


of the liberal left/Christian Democrats (Benèvolo, Salzano). During the 1970s he was renowned for his controversial positions, and for bringing debates over urbanism, planning, and the socialist city into the Italian Communist Party congresses, along with other hot topics of the moment like the unceasing flow of capitalist development and the countervailing Soviet and Chinese models.

Aymonino was reliably unmerciful on such topics. Against the grain of virtually all his contemporaries, he maintained that the city could never escape its history and that new modes of production would necessarily bring about changes in the relationships between the city’s distinctive components, which, though still comprised of public facilities and housing, would be re-combined in novel ways.

As editor of Casabella and Il Contemporaneo, Aymonino became known for his ideological diatribes and his endless dinner conversations. Dashing, seductive, a Roman-style pretty boy (more Gassman than Mastroianni), he always preferred to enjoy life rather than lurk in the shadows of abstract ideas; and he knew how to delight his friends— among whom I counted myself a distant one—with the pleasures of good fellowship.

Manuel de Solà-Morales Artà, Mallorca, August 2010